William King

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 228-34.

This ingenious gentleman, was son of Ezekiel King, of London. He received the rudiments of his education in Westminster-school, under Dr. Busby, and was removed from thence to Christ's-Church in Oxford, in Michaelmas term, 1681, when at the age of eighteen. He studied the civil law, and practised it at Doctor's Commons, with very great reputation: but the natural gaiety of his temper, and the love of company, betrayed him into those pleasures, which were incompatible with his profession.

Our author, by the reputation of his abilities obtained a patron in the earl of Pembroke, who upon his being appointed lord Lieutenant of Ireland, press'd him to go over to that kingdom.

Upon Dr. King's arrival in Ireland, his excellency appointed him judge advocate, sole commissioner of the prizes, and record keeper. There, he was well received, and countenanced by persons of the most distinguished rank, and could he have changed his disposition with the climate, had then an opportunity of making his fortune; but so far was he from improving this occasion to the purposes of his interest, that he returned back to England with no other treasure, than a few merry Poems and humorous Essays. He was naturally of a courteous behaviour, and very obliging: His conversation was chearful, and his Wit pleasant and entertaining. But at length he chiefly subsisted on his fellowship in Christ's Church College: Before this time, he had published his most ingenious Poem, called the Art of Cookery, in imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry, with some Letters to Dr. Lister and others, occasioned principally by the title of a book, published by the Dr. being the works of Apicius Coelius, concerning the soups and sauces of the ancients, with an extract of the greatest curiosities contained in that book. Amongst his Letters is one upon the Denti Scalps, or Tooth-picks of the Antients: Another contains an imitation of Horace: Epist. 5. Book 1. being his invitation of Torquatus to supper. And a third, contains remarks on lord Grimston's play, called the Lawyer's Fortune; or Love in a Hollow-Tree.

At his leisure hours he wrote likewise, The Art of Love, an imitation of Ovid, De Arte Amandi. To which he prefixed an account of Ovid. In the latter part of his life, about the year 1711, he published an Historical Account of the Heathen Gods and Heroes, for the use of Westminster, and other schools; for the better and more easy understanding of the Classics. Besides these performances, we likewise find three numbers of a project, entitled, the Transactioner, or, Useful Transactions: Containing a great number of small pieces, which it would be tedious here to enumerate.

We have already observed, that our author while in Ireland, neglected the best opportunity of encreasing his fortune; and the circumstance which occasioned it we find to be this: He had contracted an intimacy which soon grew into friendship, with judge Upton, a man of the same temper with himself, who delighted in retirement and poetical amusement. He had a country villa called Mountown, near Dublin, where he and Dr. King used to retire, and spend more of their time without any regard to their public offices; and by these means neglecting to pay court to the lord lieutenant, they fell under his displeasure. These two poetical companions, indulged no other thoughts but those of living and dying in their rural retreat. Upon this occasion, Dr. King wrote a Pastoral Poem, called Mully of Mountown: Mully was the name of a Red Cow which gave him milk, whom he made the chief subject of his Poem; which at that time the critics would have imposed upon the world as a political allegory, tho' this was a manner of writing, with which the Dr. was totally unacquainted.

When Dr. King, after his return from Ireland, had retired to live upon his fellowship at Oxford, he was sollicited by the earl of Anglesey to come to town, and undertake a cause of his, then before the House of Lords, (in relation to some cruelties he was accused of using to his lady) back'd by the violent prosecution of his mother-in-law, the countess of Dorchester. Upon this occasion the Doctor shook off the indolence of his nature, and so strenuously engaged in the cause of his patron, that he gained the reputation of an able lawyer as well as a poet. He naturally hated business, especially that of an advocate; but when appointed as a delegate, made a very discerning and able judge, yet never could bear the fatigue of wrangling. His chief pleasure consisted in trifles, and he was never happier, than when hid from the world. Few people pleased him in conversation, and it was a proof of his liking them, if his behaviour was tolerably agreeable. He was a great dissembler of his natural temper, which was sullen, morose, and peevish, where he durst shew it; but he was of a timorous disposition, and the least slight or neglect offered to him, would throw him into a melancholy despondency. He was apt to say a great many ill-natured things, but was never known to do one: He was made up of tenderness, piq, and compassion; and of so feminine a disposition, that tears would fall from his eyes upon the smallest occasion.

As his education had been strict, so he was always of a religious disposition, and would not enter upon the business of the day, till he had performed his devotion, and read several portions of scripture out of the Psalms, the Prophets, and the New-Testament.

It appears from his loose papers, which he calls Adversaria, that he had been such an assiduous student, that before he was eight years in the university, he had read over and made reflections on twenty-two thousand books and manuscripts; a few of which we shall give as specimen, in order to let the reader into the humour and taste of our author.

"Diogenes Laertius, Book I. Thales, being asked how a man might most easily brook misfortunes? answered, if he saw his enemies in a worse condition. It is not agreed, concerning the wise-men; or whether indeed they were seven."

"There is a very good letter of Pisistratus to Solon, and of the same stile and character with those of Phalaris."

"Solon ordained, that the guardians of orphans should not cohabit with their mothers: And that no person should be a guardian to those, whose estate descended to them at the orphan's decease, That no seal-graver should keep the seal of a ring that was sold: That, if any man put out the eye of him who had but one, he should lose both his own: That, where a man never planted, it should be death to take away: That, it should be death for a magistrate to be taken in drink."

"Solon's letters at the end of his life, in Laertius give us a truer idea of the man, than all he has written before, and are indeed very fine: Solon's to Craesus are very genteel; and Pitaccus's on the other side, are rude and philosophical; However, both shew Craesus to have been a very good man. There epistles give a further reason to believe, that the others were written by Phalaris. There is a letter from Cleobulus to Solon, to invite him to Lindus."

"Bion used to say, it was more easy to determine differences, between enemies than friends; for that of two friends, one would become an enemy; but of two enemies, one would become a friend."

"Anacharsis has an epistle to Craesus, to thank him for his invitation, and Periander one to all the wisemen, to invite them to Corinth to him, after their return from Lydia. Epimenides has an epistle to Solon, to invite him to Crete, under the tyranny of Pisistratus."

"Epimenides often pretended that he rose from death to life."

The above notes are sufficient to shew that he read the ancients with attention, and knew how to select the most curious passages, and most deserving the reader's observation.

About the year 1711 the Dr. published a piece called the British Palladium, or a welcome of lord Bolingbroke from France. Soon after this, Dr. Swift, Dr. Friend, Mr. Prior, with some others of lord Bolingbroke's adherents, paid a visit to Dr. King, and brought along with them, the key of the Gazetteer's office, together with another key for the use of the paper office. The day following this friendly visit, the Dr. entered upon his new post; and two or three days after waited on his benefactor lord Bolingbroke, then secretary of state.

The author of the Doctor's life, published by Curl, has related an instance of inhumanity in alderman Barber, towards Dr. King. This magistrate was then printer of the Gazette, and was so cruel as to oblige the Dr. to sit up till three or four o'clock in the morning, upon those days the Gazette was published, to correct the errors of the press; which was not the business of the author, but a corrector, who is kept for that purpose in every printing-office of any consequence. This slavery the Dr. was not able to bear, and therefore quitted the office. The alderman's severity was the more unwarrantable, as the Dr. had been very kind in obliging him, by writing Examiners, and some other papers, gratis, which were of advantage to him as a printer. Those writings at that juncture made him known to the ministry, who afterwards employed him in a state paper called the Gazette.

About Midsummer 1712 the Dr. quitted his employ, and retired to a gentleman's house on Lambeth side the water where he had diverted himself a summer or two before: Here he enjoyed his lov'd tranquillity, with a friend, a bottle, and his books; he frequently visited lord Clarendon, at Somerset-house, as long as he was able. It was the autumn season, and the Dr. began insensibly to droop: He shut himself up entirely from his nearest friends, and would not so much as see lord Clarendon; who hearing of his weak condition, ordered his sister to go to Lambeth, and fetch him from thence to a lodging he had provided for him, in the Strand, over against Somerset-house where next day about noon he expired, with all the patience, and resignation of a philosopher, and the true devotion of a christian; but would not be persuaded to go to rest the night before, till he made such a will, as he thought would be agreeable to lord Clarendon's inclinations; who after his death took care of his funeral. He was decently interred in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey, next to his master Dr. Knipe, to whom a little before, he dedicated his Heathen Gods. — The gentleman already mentioned, who has transmitted some account of our author to posterity, delineates his character in the following manner. "He was a civilian, exquisitely well read; a skillful judge, and among the learned, an universal scholar, a critic, and an adept; in all sciences and languages expert; and our English Ovid, among the poets: In conversation, he was grave and entertaining, without levity or spleen: As an author, his character may be also summ'd up in the following lines."

Read here, in softest sounds the sweetest satire,
A pen dipt deep in gall, a heart good-nature;
An English Ovid, from his birth he seems,
Inspired alike with strong poetic dreams;
The Roman, rants of heroes, gods, and Jove,
The Briton, purely paints the art of love.

As a specimen of our author's versification, we shall select a Poem of his called, the Art of making Puddings; published in his Miscellanies [omitted].